The Legolas of a few decades previous would have complained, "Must we?" upon his father's decision to attend the wedding of Prince Thorin Stonehelm in the halls of Erebor. Of course, a few decades previous, Thranduil would not have been invited, let alone wish to attend. And Stonehelm was not a prince a few decades previous, nor was the House of Durin in a position to hold a wedding in Erebor.
But those few scant decades had much changed the lands east of the Misty Mountains. The death of Smaug and the Battle of the Five Armies had freed Erebor, allowing dwarves and men to once again prosper in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. The elves of the Greenwood had opened their borders to a select few, including messengers from Erebor like the one who had delivered the invitation to the prince's wedding. Peace could not be said to abound, but a wary cooperation—yes, that was there.
Elves lived long lives, stretching into eternity if no calamity intervened. Legolas was young, not quite having reached his thousandth year, and even he had outlived countless generations of mortals. But for much of that time he had been confined within his forest home. In his recent years of wandering Eriador with the Dúnedain, Legolas had gained perspective and freedom in equal measure, and his previous suspicion of the dwarves of Erebor had turned to curiosity.
Besides, while he had fought in the Battle of the Five Armies, he had never been inside the mountain.
So thus it was that Legolas accompanied his father to Erebor in the summer of 2971 (which would later be remembered as an excellent year for Dorthonion wine) and there met the dwarf Gimli.
Though customs differed between the various kindreds of the Eldar, weddings were considered rather private affairs even for the woodelves. Legolas had attended only a few marriage ceremonies in his life, and none of them prepared for the festivities of a dwarvish wedding.
The small diplomatic party that had come from the Woodland Realm to honor the crown prince of Erebor on his wedding day were swept up in a welcome that seemed a little too warm to be genuine. It was clear to Legolas that King Dáin had ordered his people to treat the elves with the same respect they would their own kin. Estranged kin, it felt like; the kind of family with which you entered into a contest of friendliness to veil your resentments.
Still, Legolas had a good time. Watching his father get drunk on dwarvish ale while Dáin wept for his son's sake was amusing for everyone, not only the dwarves who kept surreptitiously refilling Thranduil's cup.
"They grow up so fast," Dáin proclaimed, wiping his eyes, and in ale-induced display of comradery, Thranduil even patted him on the arm sympathetically.
"Was it hard to watch your son on his wedding day?" Dáin asked, blowing his nose on Thranduil's robe.
Even intoxicated, Thranduil was conscious of his style, and he quickly snatched the hems of his clothing away. "Ah, my Legolas is not married," he said, "though sending him away on his first journey alone was impossible—impossible, I say!"
Legolas' companions among the King's Guard snickered and elbowed him. Legolas only rolled his eyes.
"It's no wedding," Dáin retorted, crossing his arms.
"But a milestone nonetheless!" Thranduil proclaimed. "So young, and already leaving the forest—and yet he rescued a caravan of dwarves from an orc raid, so I hear!"
Legolas sighed. "Father, you're mixing up your stories," he corrected, taking a sip of his own drink. "I was well into my eighth century when that happened, not even a hundred years ago, and my first solo journey was simply to visit Esgaroth when I was barely sixty. It was absolutely uneventful."
"I miss you every time you leave," Thranduil declared. "You were gone for so long this last time!"
"I'm not a child anymore, father," he pointed out. "And neither is your son, King Dáin."
But the inebriated, melancholy fathers were not to be consoled. Legolas excused himself from the feast shortly thereafter to accompany his friends on a midnight ride around the mountain.
With the celebrations coming to a close, Dáin bid his guests farewell the next morning. Now that they were sober, the two kings regarded each other much more coolly. A faint grimace spread across Thranduil's mouth as they shook hands, and Dáin's movements were as stiff as his furrowed brows.
"Congratulations to your house," Thranduil said smoothly. "I would pass my regards to your son in person, had he deigned grace us with his presence this morning."
"Can you blame the lad?" said one of Dáin's counselors, a graying dwarf with a vaguely familiar scowl. "He's in bed with his wife still. Your Majesty."
"Glóin, son of Gróin," Thranduil said as he straightened. "It is good to see you well. I do hope you have not been riding barrels recently. It would not befit your...age."
Legolas heard a snicker behind him from one of the King's Guard. His own lips twitched slightly as he saw Glóin flush at the reminder of his escape from the forest prisons and the insult to his mortality.
Then his eyes alighted on the wide-eyed young dwarf at Glóin's side. A memory stirred, of a web-covered locket showing the picture of...
"Is this the goblin mutant, then?" Legolas inquired, stepping forward and smirking at Glóin's son.
"Gimli, son of Glóin," he said gruffly, not meeting Legolas' eyes. He did not add "at your service."
"At least my son has manners!" Glóin burst out.
Thranduil's eyes flashed in warning, but Legolas only laughed. "Yes, how rude of me," he said. "It was only a joke, Master Glóin. Truly, we are all pleased to see you in good health, and Erebor so prosperous." He placed a hand on Thranduil's shoulder. "Isn't that right, Father?"
Any signs of anger melted away, and he only nodded to Glóin and Gimli. "Of course," he said. "Thank you for your hospitality, King Dáin. I hope the Woodland Realm can return the favor on some future occasion."
"Preferably before our brief mortal lives have ended," Gimli said, his voice grave but a gleam in his eye.
Thranduil did not dignify such a jibe with a response, instead turning to lead his people back home. Legolas raised an eyebrow, giving Gimli a final, calculating look before he turned to follow his father.
As soon as Gimli saw the elf, he froze and turned away.
"Gimli?" his father asked. "What is it?"
"It's him," he grumbled. "The woodelf prince."
"What business does Thranduil have with Elrond?" Glóin exclaimed. "I thought they didn't get along."
"Since when do we get along with Elrond?" Gimli pointed out.
"Since we need his counsel," Glóin said. "Besides. The Longbeards have no quarrel with Noldor elves. The Sindar, on the other hand...well, you know the stories of the Nauglamír, don't you, lad?"
"Bedtime tales," Gimli dismissed. "I don't care for the difference between elves. Thranduil and his son are pricks, that's all I care about."
Glóin snorted in laughter. "That's my son!" He patted Gimli on the back. "Well, we're all here with a common enemy. Let's remember that. Although," he confided, "I've always held a special grudge against this foolish prince. Ever since he personally locked me up in Mirkwood..."
"And he was so rude at Stonehelm's wedding!" Gimli added.
"That too." Glóin nodded solemnly. "Well, son, if you see an opportunity, I would have great enjoyment at watching the Thranduilion get knocked down a few pegs. Just don't start a war over it!"
Gimli smiled. "Of course not. We wouldn't want that."
Truly, he didn't. No, Gimli's feelings on this particular woodland prince were complicated, and he didn't know what he'd do if faced with actually humiliating him. Though considering how he acted last time they met, Gimli fostered enough ill-will toward Legolas to be sorely tempted.
Aside from the general rudeness and superiority, which could only be expected from an elf, it hurt that Legolas did not remember him. But then, why would he? Gimli had been only a child and a stranger. But the image of Legolas, bloodstained and teeth bared, could never fade from Gimli's mind.
He hadn't told his father that Legolas was the same elf who had saved his mother's caravan, all those years ago. In fact, he wasn't sure if Nigríd had ever told Glóin that she'd needed an elf's help at all. But at Stonehelm's wedding, Gimli had overheard Thranduil discussing the subject, and his suspicions that Prince Legolas was indeed the same wandering warrior elf were confirmed.
Gimli hated feeling indebted to anyone. But he especially hated feeling indebted to an elf. It was worse, somehow, that Legolas did not remember, because that meant Gimli had the option of not returning the favor. It was too tempting to simply never speak of it, but at the same time, the idea of not fulfilling such an obligation stung his honor.
Perhaps that was why he volunteered to join this perilous quest; at least, part of the reason. Such dangers awaited them that he would have ample opportunity to repay his debt without Legolas ever being the wiser. Of course, that would mean accompanying the elf for leagues, but for all he knew they were united against the forces of evil, he still wouldn't trust Legolas further than he could spit.
"Someone needs to keep an eye on that elf, and I'm glad it's you," Glóin said as they packed Gimli's few belongings in preparation for a long journey. "The world must not forget the valour of the dwarves! He'd claim all the credit, that is for certain."
"There are many others beside us," Gimli pointed out, though he agreed. "And if half of your stories about Master Bilbo are true, I have much to expect from the hobbits! To think, it took only one of them to steal the Arkenstone—with four, we could recover all the rings from under Sauron's very nose!"
Glóin laughed heartily. "Just make sure that elfling doesn't steal them back because it was his kin who helped make them," he added.
"And look where that got us," Gimli said sagely.
"You give my people such little credit," said a new voice. Gimli turned to see Legolas himself standing in the doorway, his face unreadable. "We have guarded the Three well, have we not?"
"The dwarves never bent to the Dark Lord's will, either," Gimli countered.
"And yet you lost the Seven." Legolas spread his hands. "But I did not come to quarrel, nor to steal, Master Dwarf."
"What did you come for, then?" Gimli asked, crossing his arms.
"To give myself a second introduction, in better faith than the first." Legolas extended a hand, challenge in his eyes. "Unless you decline the offer, and would have us remain rivals."
Gimli scowled. "First impressions last forever," he warned. And it was true: the memory of Legolas on the battlefield so many years ago still made his pulse quicken with an admiration he could not quell. But Legolas did not know that, and there was no way to refuse the proffered hand and look good.
"Still," he said before Legolas could draw back, "if we are to be brothers in arms, let us not quarrel." He shook the elf's hand, gripping firmly.
Legolas smiled, squeezing back with more strength than Gimli thought possible from such a spindly form, but he showed no sign of his surprise. Their hands were clasped for several seconds as they took the measure of each other, Gimli looking up into the elf's blue eyes and Legolas down into Gimli's brown.
The elf let go first, leaving Gimli's hand tingling as his blood resumed its circulation.
"Do not think this means I like you," Gimli said with false cheer. "But as they say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
"Oh, I don't like you either," Legolas laughed, "but we must work with the tools at hand, hm?"
He pranced away, leaving Gimli scowling after him. "Did he just call me a tool?" he demanded, turning to face Glóin. But his father's face was carefully blank, and he said nothing in return.
Legolas walked through the trees of Lothlórien, his mind so occupied by troubling thoughts that he could scarcely appreciate the wondrous beauty of the golden wood. There was much to be worried about—Mithrandir's fall, the Lady's prophecies, the fractures forming within the Fellowship—and yet...
And yet what truly worried him was the dwarf.
Gimli's grace toward the Lady had surprised Legolas, and he found his eye wandering to the dwarf with curious interest often in the days since their arrival in Lothlórien. What he found was enough charm and honor to unsettle him, once he looked beneath Gimli's rough exterior. In fact, the more Legolas laughed at Gimli's jokes, the more Gimli listened attentively to Legolas' songs...
He found himself more fond of the dwarf than he was comfortable with. Yes, they were companions in this perilous quest; truly, it was only natural they became friends after a time. But somehow this felt different than the affection Legolas held for Aragorn, or Boromir, or the periannath. And that difference troubled him.
He fiddled with a fallen leaf, spinning it between his thumb and forefinger as he absently strode beneath the treetops. Far off he could hear the faint noise of elvish singing, but it was the gentle burbling of a nearby creek that stirred him from his stupor of thought. Well, not just the burbling.
The young hobbits sang a bathing song as they splashed about in the creek, though how they could muster the cheer to do so was beyond Legolas. Aragorn and Boromir were somber; Frodo barely slept, even under the Lady's protection, and Sam hovered near him anxiously. And yet Merry and Pippin, bless them, sang on, finding joy in the smallest of things.
Once he had been like that, he mused. It was not so long ago. He was young for an elf, barely a thousand, and until the Battle of the Five Armies he had been caught up only in the affairs of the Woodland Realm. Yes, he had traveled somewhat in other lands, but his heart lay only beneath the shaded trees of his birthplace. It had taken a friend's loss and a war so close to home to disturb him, and he was still searching for answers to the questions raised in those years.
"Do you mind if I walk with you?" said a voice behind him.
Legolas jumped, startled, his heart pounding. Gimli chuckled softly as he walked forward, hands in his pockets. "And here I thought your kind had the ears of owls," he remarked.
He sighed, casting aside the leaf in his hand. "When we try," he admitted. "But not when we know we are safe, and have much to dwell on within our own minds."
"Aye," Gimli murmured. "That I can understand."
They walked together in silence for awhile, keeping close to the stream. At last they discovered Merry and Pippin, who hollered an invitation to join them.
"I am clean," Legolas declined.
"And I know how cold that water is," Gimli said with a chuckle.
"I envy them their merriment," Legolas said as they passed. "My heart is yet too heavy."
Gimli laid a hand on his arm, and Legolas stilled. "We all grieve, even them. But would not Mithrandir want us to press on?"
"And yet we linger," Legolas whispered. He did not step forward as Gimli did. The touch had been brief, meaningless no doubt, but it had come along with others in the past weeks. Gimli's scowls and glares of suspicion had long since become a thing of the past, but the gestures of kindness...
"Legolas?" Gimli asked, turning back. "Are you coming?"
"Mm," he said, resuming his pace. How quickly mortals changed their minds! Gimli treated him like a friend now, not simply a begrudging companion, but Legolas was having trouble adjusting to the new role. It pained him: he had grown to enjoy the dwarf's company. But expressing that was another thing altogether. Especially when a strange undercurrent of anxiety bubbled through his veins whenever he thought of Gimli.
"You seem out of sorts," Gimli said.
"Are not we all?" Legolas watched him carefully. Did he feel the tension also? Did he know what worries plagued Legolas' mind?
Gimli only shrugged. The minds of dwarves were inscrutable! "You especially."
"Mithrandir's death has shaken me," Legolas admitted, and though it was true, it was not the real reason for his unrest. "I have known of death; my own mother perished long ago, but I barely remember her. Mithrandir..."
"But you are a warrior," Gimli said in surprise. "Surely you have lost comrades in battle before."
"None so close to me," Legolas said. "And he is...he was no mere mortal." He winced as he realized the casual rudeness of his words. It was impossible to forget that Gimli was mortal, though the nature of his fae—his spirit, and thus his connection to the world—was different than that of Boromir or Aragorn, of the race of men.
Gimli snorted. "I would think you should have learned to respect us mortal folk by now."
"I do!" Legolas protested hurriedly. "Aragorn and Boromir—and you, of course—are mighty warriors. But Mithrandir was an Ainu. Even elves may fall and perish, but he was not supposed to die. He was stronger than any of us." And if Mithrandir could fall, could not they all? He had always known that their task was perilous, but now faced with the stark reality that even Mithrandir could die, what chance did they have against Sauron himself?
"Aye," Gimli rumbled. "'Tis a sign of the great evil we face that one so mighty as he may fall. We must press on, and finish this fight, for his sake." He paused, then added, "I am unlearned in elvish lore. But is not our foe of the same stock as Mithrandir? If the Wizard can be conquered, perhaps Sauron can, also."
Legolas blinked. "I had not thought of it that way," he said. "But you are right. Thank you, Gimli. You bring me hope in this dark hour." He bit his tongue, embarrassed to speak his heart so openly. But if Gimli understood the truer meaning of his words, he made no indication.
A comfortable silence fell between them as they wandered along the riverbed. At last Gimli spoke again: "I never thought I would say this of an elf, but..." He looked at Legolas sidelong.
Legolas knew what this was about. "Yes, Lady Galadriel is beautiful even to the blind," he agreed solemnly. "If anyone can touch hearts and minds made of stone, it is she."
Gimli chuckled. "Well, yes. But that is not what I meant."
"Oh?" Legolas dared a glance at him, hoping and fearing in the same breath.
"You are not so bad, my friend," Gimli said, looking straight ahead. "I am glad to be with you."
Again Legolas stopped in his tracks, stunned by the plain and honest affection. This time he took stock of himself and caught up with Gimli in only a few paces.
He felt much the same, but ah! how to express it? He was clumsy with words, not like kind-spoken, silver-tongued Gimli, and this friendship was not like anything he had before experienced. There was no example, no map for how to be the companion of a dwarf.
Hesitantly, fearfully, he reached out his hand, unsure of where to place it. Gimli's shoulder? his arm? But Gimli made the choice for him, slipping his own hand into Legolas' grasp and intertwining their fingers.
Legolas felt dizzy, overwhelmed by the simple gesture. Gimli made no eye contact with him, walking at his side as if nothing of note had happened, but if Legolas could see correctly beneath the handsome beard on his companion's face, a small smile appeared on his lips.
"You fought well today," Legolas murmured.
Gimli was glad the dark hid his blush. The elf seldom gave compliments, and each one did something funny to him. He tried to tell himself it was simply an honor to be thought highly of by a comrade who so excelled in battle himself, but a nagging suspicion that it was something else also would not leave him alone.
"Thanks," he said gruffly. "You too. You always do."
Aragorn was asleep; Gimli ought to be resting, also, but the moon had barely risen and Legolas' hair glowed silver in the starlight. It was no crime to appreciate a pretty elf. He had admired the lady Galadriel, after all; this was not much different. (What his father would say if he knew Gimli had come to appreciate the elven aesthetique!)
Legolas stretched his impossibly long arms, merriment dancing in his eyes. "Not always. I was young and inexperienced once." His hand brushed Gimli's shoulder for the briefest moment, sending electricity jolting through Gimli's body. Damn him! did he know the effect he had?
"Oh, of course," Gimli agreed with a smirk, hiding his anxieties. "I daresay I picked up my skills faster than you."
"If so, only because I had the advantage of a longer childhood," Legolas teased. "Your craftsmanship was learned under pressure. How old were you when you first saw battle? Twenty?"
"Twelve," Gimli said solemnly, thinking back to the day he had first beheld this stupidly beautiful elf.
Legolas blinked. "And I thought my guess was premature!"
"Oh, I was not ready," Gimli assured. He watched Legolas through half-lidded eyes, wondering if the elf held any memory of their first meeting. "I was accompanying my mother on a trade journey. Our caravan was waylaid by orcs."
"Ai, Elbereth," Legolas said sympathetically. "And you fought even then?"
"I had only a dagger I had barely begun to use in the simplest of hunts," Gimli boasted, though truly the memory was embarrassing and terrifying. "My mother bid me to hide in the wagons, but I saw our companions slaughtered, and I knew I was not safe anywhere. She wielded her great axe to protect us, but it was not enough."
"Was your father not there?"
"No, he was in Ered Luin healing from a broken leg," Gimli said. "My mother was the traveler, anyway. Still, her skills were never in battle, but in trade. We would've been done for."
"But then you rushed into save the day," Legolas guessed.
Gimli smiled, wondering how long he could drag out the story before Legolas realized. "No. I would've got my head cut off, were it not for the wandering warrior who happened upon us."
"Where was this?" Legolas asked.
"Eriador." Gimli waved a hand. "Somewhere on the Greenway. I don't remember exactly."
"One of the Dúnedain, then?" Legolas' curiosity was piqued, and he leaned forward, the dim light of the dying fire lighting his face.
Gimli chuckled. "Keep guessing, lad."
"You know I am several hundred years your senior," Legolas admonished.
You were then, too, Gimli thought. The Legolas of the past was frozen in his mind, youthful yet eternal, the gleam in his eyes both fearsome and wise. He remembered the moment the elf had launched himself into the fray, running the orc captain through and saving Nigríd's life. He was a whirlwind of blades, his green armor stained red with blood.
Gimli had never stood a chance.
"Humor me," Legolas said impatiently. "Who was this mysterious savior of yours?"
"A warrior from the east," Gimli said vaguely, waving a hand. "He slew the orc leader and scattered the rest. My mother was loath to thank an elf, but we dwarves are honorable folk. It's funny, he would take no payment, refused her even the offer of a life debt. But he never said such a thing to me...and he saved my life, also."
Legolas had gone quiet. He turned away, hair falling in his face, his eyes shadowed as he contemplated the story. "That is odd," he murmured. "I remember meeting a dwarf woman under very similar circumstances. She had a young son, even."
"What are the chances?" Gimli murmured.
Legolas whipped around. "It was—you!"
"I haven't any idea what you're talking about," Gimli said with false innocence. "I certainly would remember the pretty elf who saved my life. Even when I saw him much later at my cousin's wedding, and he was so very rude. But if I had met that elf prince again, I hope he knows—" He bit his tongue before he said anything foolish, finishing lamely, "Well, I hope he knows we're even."
Legolas had the oddest look in his eyes. "You knew all this time, and you never told me," he accused, but his voice was soft.
"I was rather hoping you would remember me," Gimli admitted. Legolas leaned closer, so close Gimli could feel his breath warming the chill night air.
"In my defense, you've grown an awful lot since then." Legolas placed his hand on Gimli's. "Yet it seems I haven't changed at all." A soft kiss brushed his cheek, and Gimli forgot how to breathe.
Oh, it was undeniable now, he thought ruefully. He was doomed now, just like his poor old cousin Kíli.
Legolas drew back. "I am sorry," he said. "That was—too forward of me. Please, forget—"
Gimli snapped out of his shock, glowering at Legolas. "You bastard," he grumbled. Legolas stared at him with wide and fearful eyes, and Gimli groaned in frustration.
Mahal damn him! If this was how it was, then so be it.
Legolas continued to stammer apologies, turning away in shame, until Gimli seized him and drew him closer, kissing him squarely on the lips.
"Mmf!" Legolas squeaked, but he kissed back, and Gimli lost himself in the feeling. He'd never kissed anyone without a beard before, and the smoothness of the elf's face was a shock—and Legolas, he could tell, was getting lost in the beard, pulling on it in a delightful way that sent shivers down Gimli's spine.
At last they broke apart and Legolas collapsed into Gimli's lap, breathing hard. "Meleth nîn," he exclaimed. "What is this?"
"What do you think?" Gimli grumbled, his face so red and hot that no amount of darkness could hide it. "I have been enamoured of you since I was a child, upon our very first meeting. I must admit you shocked me, hurt me, upon our second meeting, but I can forgive you for that, if..."
"If what?" Legolas said, his eyes wide. He clung to Gimli, so needy and affectionate that Gimli thought he might faint from the desperation of it all. He had never been loved so vulnerably, so unreservedly, so quickly. And after only one kiss!
"Perhaps...if you kiss me again..." he mumbled.
Legolas did not need to be asked twice.
They had stood side by side, watching the armies advance. Even for warriors as experienced as they, the sight of Saruman's endless orc horde struck fear into their hearts. It had been unconscious, on his part. Legolas' hand had searched for comfort of its own accord, and found Gimli's there, warm and strong and dependable.
They had scarce talked about that night, before arriving in Rohan, when Gimli had told his story and they had kissed until the morning light. There was a fear between them, a vulnerability that threatened to take Legolas' heart from him should it fall apart. So they had not talked, only finding secluded places to be together, refusing to acknowledge the shining thing between them.
If, indeed, it was between them, and not a projection of Legolas' own emotion.
They had not time for aught more than a squeeze of their hands, for soon the enemy were upon them. Legolas fought, masking his fear for Gimli's life with competitive banter. Truly, he did enjoy himself, and he wanted to win, of course. If only to prove that he was as worthy of Gimli's admiration now as he was all those years ago from their chance meeting on the Greenway.
Every time he saw Gimli in the fray, cutting through orcs like a knife through butter, he felt a burst of energy—relief mixed with joy, the urge to fight beside his dwarf paired with the need to keep him safe. But then could not see him anymore, the count was uneven, and the battle turned more vicious.
Legolas didn't have much time to worry about Gimli as he slew orc after orc, completely absorbed in the fighting. At last the tide turned and he heard the horn of Helm Hammerhand blow just as dawn broke and Mithrandir, born again, rode over the horizon with reinforcements.
Only when the few remaining enemies had fled into the forest of Huorns did Legolas begin his search for his friends. He was relieved to see Aragorn alive and well, and many of his new Rohirrim friends wearily beginning the process of cleaning up after the battle. Yet Gimli was nowhere to be found.
Terror seized his heart. Had Gimli fallen in the battle? Was he covered in the corpses of orcs in the depths of some hidden cave, never to be discovered? Was he wounded, bleeding out, with no one to help him? Was he—
And then Legolas saw him, bloodstained and beautiful, and it was all he could do to not fling himself into Gimli's arms and kiss him there in front of everyone.
"Forty-two!" Gimli boasted, his hands on his hips and a grin spread wide across his face. Legolas barely listened as he went on to bemoan a nick in his axe. Their game had fallen so far from his mind that it took him a moment to realize that Gimli had asked how he had fared in the fighting.
"You have passed my score by one," he said at last, drinking in the sight of his dwarf alive and well. "But I do not grudge you the game, so glad am I to see you on your legs!"
His words spake only a portion of their meaning. The leaders and chief warriors of the battle convened and spoke of their next steps, but Legolas barely listened. Gimli stood by his side, leaning into him and finding his hand. Their fingers interlaced, and Legolas' heart pounded. He was full of that fear, again, but this was of a different kind.
At last the counselors of the king dispersed. Aragorn looked to his friends, but upon seeing their hands clasped together simply raised an eyebrow and turned to speak with Éomer.
Gimli's other hand slid up Legolas' back, and he let out a soft gasp. "Come with me, lad," he murmured.
As soon as they were alone they fell into each other. The tension in Gimli's body relaxed as they kissed, more fierce and passionate than before, and before long they were shedding their overclothes.
"Ahh!" Gimli winced. "I'm hurt there—"
"Sorry!" Legolas exclaimed, kissing the spot on Gimli's chest where it hurt. "Meleth, I—you were gone so long, I thought I..."
The fire in Gimli's eyes slowly faded as tears budded in Legolas' eyes. "What's... Legolas? Are you alright?"
Legolas began to weep. "I am now," he said, "I think. Gimli, meleth, what..."
Gimli took his hand, tracing his thumb over Legolas' knuckles. Patiently, he waited for Legolas to continue.
"I asked you, when we first kissed, what this was," he said haltingly. "You told me you were—enamoured of me since you first saw me, when you were a child. But what does...oh, Gimli, this is all so new to me. I've never before loved another the way I love you. I thought I may have lost you, and seeing you alive—I think I saw you then the way you saw me, when I rescued you all those years ago."
Gimli pulled Legolas into a kiss, slow and serious. Legolas kissed back, hungrily, desperately. He needed confirmation that Gimli was there, that he wanted him, that...
"Amrâlimê," Gimli said roughly. "That is what you mean when you call me meleth, no? Love? Of course I love you. I thought you knew that."
"I am so afraid," he admitted. "We are so different, you and I. My father—hah!"
Gimli chuckled. "Aye, mine also. But I want you, I love you, I have since for ever. I will not deny myself this, not now that it is realized, reciprocated, not now that I accept it."
"Then this is no tumble in the hay, a relief after battle?" Legolas whispered. "I have heard the men speak of such things. You truly want me for me?"
"Always," Gimli said gravely. "I will have all of you, if you will have all of me."
"You should know," Legolas murmured in between kisses, fumbling with the laces of his breeches, "that we—elves do not take coupling lightly. Only marriage is paramount. To some, they are the one and the same. I do not wish to bind you to anything you may regret."
Gimli stilled, but only for a moment. "I have loved you since I was young," he said softly. "If you are sure, then so am I. I do not think such a feeling can fade."
"Then let us be one," Legolas breathed, and sank further into Gimli's embrace.
"My lord," said his page-girl, "you have a visitor."
Gimli laid down his quill and rubbed his forehead. "Tell them to come back in the morning," he said. "They can explore all of Aglarond tonight. I will see them tomorrow. I am exhausted."
"Is that any way to treat an old friend?" said a teasing voice.
Gimli froze and turned around. Legolas stood in the doorway, shooing the page-girl away and closing the door behind her.
"Amrâlimê!" he exclaimed, jumping out of the chair and rushing to embrace his husband. "What a surprise!"
"I have missed you this past year," Legolas said, kissing the top of his head. "I had to sort some things out with my father. Eryn Lasgalen is thriving and vibrant, and I have long been independent, but he is so cloying at times. Convincing him that I would, of course, come to visit took time."
Gimli frowned. "What are you talking about?"
Legolas let go of him, wandering around Gimli's study. "Hmm, lord of Aglarond indeed!" he hummed. "The caves are beautiful, yes, but this room is a travesty! There are vines I can bring, that need no natural light, that will liven this place up. I will need plants of some kind, after all."
"This is my study," Gimli objected. "I mean, I am not opposed to your suggestion, but—"
"Yes, yes." Legolas waved his hand in dismissal, drawing Gimli close to him with a kiss. "But let us speak of more important things. It is spring now, how does summer sound for making things official? I know the betrothal period is usually longer, for both our peoples, but you're not getting any younger and considering how we've done things so far, I didn't think being conventional is the most pressing—"
Gimli tried to interrupt, but Legolas rambled on. The only way he could shut his elf up was with a firm kiss. Even then, Legolas tried to deepen it into something more intense, but Gimli wouldn't let him. He slapped a hand over that wicked mouth of his, looking at him sternly.
"Legolas. My love. Amrâlimê. Meleth. Love of my life. My dear husband." Gimli took a deep breath, watching as Legolas blushed and melted a little with every pet name. "What on earth are you talking about? You march in here and act like the place is yours, start suggesting how to redecorate, babble on about moving away from your precious and overprotective father which we both know he would never allow—you weren't supposed to come on the quest in the first place, which I shall never let you forget—and speak of betrothal? Are we not already wed, since that day at the Hornburg?"
"Mmf," Legolas mumbled. Gimli released him, only for Legolas to dip down and kiss his fingertips like he was some courtier wooing a lady.
"Enough frivolity," Gimli scolded, gently whacking his husband upside the head. "Speak plainly to me."
"I don't know what you're so confused about," Legolas said. "Yes, we are wed, but the whole thing was rushed and you know how my father is. If he's to give me away, he wants all the pomp and circumstance, time to process and grieve, and if he's to send me to the bed of a dwarf he insists on everything else being proper. Well, I talked some of that out of him, after he got over the shock of it all, but he does insist on a wedding. He's already invited King Stonehelm and your aged parents, we're holding it in Ithilien. Oh, yes, I've spoken with Faramir and he's given me a section of the wood for my own, and I've brought some elves from Eryn Lasgalen to keep the place. We can split our time between Aglarond and there—you know I will endure anything for you, meleth, but you must spend some time in Ithilien with me also, if we are to be wed officially. There is much more light there than in Fangorn, I promise. You can even bring some of your favorite rocks."
This was all far too much for Gimli to process. Legolas could be shy and withholding, but once he got an idea into his head, it was impossible to get him to stop talking about it.
"You're planning a wedding?" he said at last, his voice a little strangled. "And you didn't think to let me know?"
"I'm letting you know now!" Legolas said brightly. "And I figured you would be excited, considering the lack of formality always bothered you a bit—"
"Keeping my husband a secret is frustrating," Gimli murmured.
"—and besides, we're already married, this is just a bit of ceremony for everyone else to understand it," Legolas finished. He frowned. "Unless you don't want to marry me?" His blue eyes were wide and fearful, like the first time he'd dared kiss him.
Gimli stared at his husband for a moment, before he began to chuckle, and then laugh, and then guffaw, his entire body shaking. "Legolas, love," he said through his laughter, "of course I want to marry you. Having a second wedding sounds like a lovely plan. And..." He drew Legolas closer, letting him have that passionate kiss now that everything was falling into place. "...I can't wait to see you in a dress."
Legolas blushed and rumbled, "I was just thinking the same thing. Of course..." He laid a hand on Gimli's chest, playing with his hair. "I don't have to wait to see you out of one."
Gimli laughed again, and kissed his husband-to-be-again. "Have no fear," he murmured, planting a kiss on one of those delightfully sensitive ears, "I plan to ravish you many times before our summer wedding comes."
"Don't keep me waiting!" Legolas teased, shrugging off his shirt. "And I have no reason to fear you, meleth. I am never afraid in your arms."
If only his younger self could see him now, Gimli thought as he made love to the elf who had saved him on the Greenway. He would be horrified, and not a little awed.
"I'm glad I saved that dwarvish caravan," Legolas murmured when they were through. "To think, I could have lived a life without you. Now that would be something to fear."
"Never fear," Gimli said with a kiss. "I would have found you even in death, even if it meant petitioning Mahal to give me another body like he does with King Durin. I would never give up the comfort of your embrace."
Legolas smiled, and drew him closer. Gimli dozed off to sleep, dreaming of his savior of so long ago, grateful for all the fear and hope that brought him here today.